Movie Review – 3 from Hell

It’s the Rob Zombie you know and love… provided you love his vacuous, carnage-ridden horror films and not his guitar-shredding metal music…

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Though they presumably met a fatal end down the barrels of numerous law-enforcing guns in The Devil’s Rejects (2005), the serial-killing Firefly family – Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) – are revealed to have survived the shootout, and have spent the following decade paying for their crimes in prison. Spaulding is executed via lethal injection, while Otis, with the help of his half-brother Foxy (Richard Brake), eventually manages to escape. On the run, the pair form a murderous plot to free Baby too.

Fans of Rob Zombie’s films will know exactly what they’re getting into with 3 From Hell, which slots comfortably into Zombie’s filmography by checking off every box on his reliable and repetitive brand of moviemaking. It’s typical grindhouse horror, wearing its 60’s/70’s era inspirations obviously on its sleeve.

Zombie clearly puts a lot of passion into his projects, but his scripts always feel devoid of real substance and mostly succeed in bringing to mind the better horrors they’ve borrowed generously from.

The good news is that 3 From Hell stands as one of Zombie’s better efforts. A very belated threequel to his first two films House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, 3 From Hell is just entertainingly nutty enough to justify its existence. Resurrecting characters that couldn’t possibly have survived the fate they met all those years ago means there’s no chance of this being taken seriously, which fortunately Zombie realises and plays things looser and sillier than usual.

Sid Haig’s iconic clown-faced killer Captain Spaulding is unfortunately reduced to a cameo here; due to his declining health, he was forced to step down (and sadly passed away not long after the film’s release). This made Zombie rework his story to include Richard Brake’s half-brother of the Fireflies, Foxy, who fits the trio well even if he can’t quite fill Haig’s clown-sized boots.

But really, this is Otis and Baby’s show. The deliriously repellent pair teeter a fine line between endearing and irritating, but remain, for the most part, curiously watchable. Zombie can’t seem to decide if we should be jeering or applauding these sadists. At the very least, he’s probably wrung a career-best performance out of his spouse Sheri Moon Zombie.

As bonkers and admittedly fun as it is for a good while, 3 From Hell does wind up overstaying its welcome by about twenty minutes. It’s nothing new whatsoever, but diehard Zombie fans will be more than satisfied, and your casual viewer looking for a bit of grungy thrills could do worse.

Image courtesy of Lionsgate 

Movie Review – Doctor Sleep

A sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s seminal horror The Shining, Doctor Sleep sees director Mike Flanagan prove himself a studious and competent caretaker of The Overlook Hotel.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

As strange as it may seem, Kubrick’s revered adaptation of The Shining was not widely acclaimed when it first opened in 1980, with the novel’s author Stephen King famously aggrieved by the director’s chops and changes. In the intervening years, Kubrick’s film has earned its rightful place in the pantheon of classic horror, and King has moved on (sort of).

However, this divergence leaves Mike Flanagan – who was set the task of directing and adapting King’s sequel novel – with a conundrum. Does he honour Kubrick’s alterations or reconcile King’s original vision? Well, the answer is yes to both, with Doctor Sleep – which stars Ewan McGregor as an all grown-up Danny Torrance returning to The Overlook Hotel to face his childhood demons – acting as a strange hybrid of the two storytellers.

An exercise in compromise, Doctor Sleep marries the inescapable foreboding and chilliness of Kubrick with the idiosyncratic and supernatural spookiness of King. It’s an impressive undertaking that pays homage to the original while embracing a new direction.

In the present day, a dishevelled Torrance combats internal anxieties and uses alcohol abuse to subdue his ‘shining’ gift. Meanwhile, a mysterious cult called The True Knot are hunting and feeding on other gifted people like Torrance. Led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the cult learn about Torrance and his powerful connection with a young girl called Abra (Kyliegh Curran), who they believe possesses enough ‘shining’ power to prolong their life almost indefinitely.

Clocking in at around two-and-a-half hours, Doctor Sleep is by no means a cheap and nasty cash-grab riding on Kubrick’s coat tails. Hiring Flanagan (whose credits include Oculus, Hush, The Haunting of Hill House and another King adaption Gerald’s Game) is further evidence of this. He’s up there with Jordan Peele and James Wan as one of the best contemporary horror directors of recent times.

Where Doctor Sleep struggles is not in its slavish attention-to-detail, but its gluttonous length and hokey antagonists. While the thrilling third act is worth the wait, some of the diversions en route distract from McGregor’s great central performance. Ferguson’s folksy villain – who can only be described as a mix of gypsy chic and the long-lost sister from Mumford and Sons – fails to send shivers down the spine.

An admirable follow-up to an all-time classic, Doctor Sleep is a little long in the tooth, but not lacking in bite. A weird plot ambles its way through some chilling sequences to arrive at the iconic Overlook, which is where this film hits its stride.

Doctor Sleep is available in Australian cinemas from 7 November 2019

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Ready Or Not

Grace (Samara Weaving) gets an unusual introduction to her new in-laws when they insist she take part in an eccentric – and deadly – game of hide and seek. And you thought your in-laws were bad…

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

Ready or Not sits at the bizarre crossroads where Get Out and Clue meet HBO’s Succession. Grace, a snarky orphan who spent her childhood bouncing from foster home to foster home, is marrying Alex (Mark O’Brien), the heir-apparent of the Le Domas family, a ludicrously wealthy dynasty driven by eccentric traditions.

At the strike of midnight on their wedding night, Alex’s parents, siblings and extended family join the newlyweds for a family custom – a board game, selected at random by the bride. Determined to win favour with her new family, Grace plays along – not knowing that by choosing hide and seek, she is now the prey in a deadly chase through the ornate halls of the Le Domas mansion. Failing to kill Grace by dawn will lead to their undoing, or so the sinister family believes.

Once you buy into the absurd premise – which centres around a cursed Civil War relic – Ready or Not reveals itself to be one of most surprisingly entertaining films of the year. At just a smidge over 90 minutes, this horror-comedy speeds along at a fair pace, playing fast and loose with the plot and never taking itself too seriously.

Decked out in a torn wedding gown, battered Chuck Taylors and a bandolier slung across her shoulder, Aussie actress Weaving cuts a striking figure as the bedraggled bride whose nuptials have turned into a nightmare. A bonafide scream queen by now (let’s not forget her star turn in Netflix’s The Babysitter), it’s Weaver’s commanding and comedic performance that makes the thin characterisation go a long way and takes Ready or Not from good to great.

When they’re not staging smart action sequences, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett take aim at the rich, with Grace’s wide-eyed disbelief acting as an effective counterpoint to the Le Domas’ delusional beliefs. Between this, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite and Jordan Peele’s one-two punch of Get Out and Us, class and wealth are increasingly under the microscope in mainstream cinema – a curious trend of late.

The jokes are hit and miss, but Ready or Not more or less succeeds in having its cake and eating it too, mixing blood splatter and satanic worship with smarts and satire.

Ready or Not is available in Australian cinemas from 24 October 2019

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Movie Review – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

 Teens awaken an ancient evil on Halloween and must face their fears in order to… you know what? I’m sure you already know the rest.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

It’s Halloween 1968 in a small Pennsylvanian town. Stella (Zoe Colletti), a young aspiring horror author, and her friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) befriend a young drifter named Ramón (Michael Garza) and invite him to explore a local haunted house with them. Stella delightedly stumbles upon a book of scary stories written by a former resident of the house. Naively taking the book, the friends realise they’ve awoken something disturbing when new stories begin to appear in its pages, coming to fruition in sinister ways.

After two horror films that smartly subverted expectations and genre norms (Troll Hunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe), Norwegian director André Øvredal takes a step sideways into safer, studio-driven territory with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

The series of short stories by Alvin Schwartz – upon which the film is based – were once considered controversial for containing tales and illustrations too macabre for children. Realistically, the books were written for a slightly more mature demographic, but they were the kind of things that filled younger kids with a rebellious, terrified glee that would give them nightmares for weeks if they happened to get their hands on them.

That real sense of dread is mostly lost in its translation to the screen. Younger viewers will no doubt get plenty of unpleasant jolts, but broadening itself for bigger box office prospects means it’s nothing hardened horror veterans – or even standard moviegoers  – haven’t seen before.

Øvredal and his production team let their imaginations run rampant, creating ominous visuals, a creaking soundscape and a lighting design that shifts from dark and shadowy to blood-red. Being a Guillermo Del Toro production means the monster designs are top notch, and save for one or two that rely too heavily on CGI, most are actually pretty creepy looking.

However, ‘the curious kids awakening an ancient curse’ stencil is well worn out and coming off the back of better films of its ilk, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark doesn’t really find its own voice. Add to this the overtly anticlimactic finale and the painful “this is just the beginning” sequel-setup voiceover – it’s not an animal that stands out from the pack.

That said, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is still just fun enough to scrape by. Its young cast does well, particularly Zoe Colletti, and there’s enough goofy thrills to entertain. With a huge collection of stories still at their disposal, let’s hope Øvredal and co. kick it up a notch for the inevitable follow-up.

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is available in Australian cinemas from 26 September 2019

Image © Universal Pictures 2019

Movie Review – Angel of Mine

An interesting concept that gets bogged down by a lack of story progression.

 ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

Angel of Mine is a fascinating character study of a woman who cannot overcome the death of her child. Director Kim Farrant sets up the film beautifully, showing Lizzie (Noomi Rapace) as a woman suffering through a divorce and struggling to make ends meet in a job she doesn’t enjoy. At a children’s birthday party, Lizzie spots Lola (Annika Whiteley), the sister of her son’s friend, and becomes convinced she is her daughter that she believed died in a fire. Lizzie befriends Lola’s mother (Yvonne Strahovski) and gradually begins to lose her grip on reality.

As soon as Lola is introduced, we start to see a shift in Lizzie. Rapace begins to outwardly express the grief Lizzie has bottled up inside, hinting that she may not be in the best emotional or mental state. She portrays her as a woman unhinged and deeply scarred from events that were outside of her control. While her actions are completely irrational, you can’t help but empathise with her. As Lizzie stalks Lola, Farrant carefully builds spine-tingling tension that lasts right up until the final moments.

Rapace’s performance is nicely contrasted by Strahovski as Lola’s mother Claire. Where Lizzie is quiet, Claire is loud and abrasive. When Lizzie is sneaky and passive, Claire is violent and angry. As Lizzie gets closer to her daughter, Claire becomes more and more paranoid and protective. The juxtaposition leads others to doubt whether Lizzie is actually insane and whether Claire’s accusations against her have any truth to them.

Angel of Mine may be led by two phenomenal performances from Rapace and Strahovski respectively, but it’s ultimately let down by its story. Farrant brilliantly sets the tone for the film, but the stakes don’t quite get high enough for the final reveal to pay off properly. There is a complete lack of momentum in the middle as the film becomes weighed down by its own character study. The final act is then rushed through, reaching a conclusion that is too quick and too perfect for the film to end on a memorable note.

Angel of Mine is available in Australian cinemas from 5 September 2019

Image courtesy of R&R Films

Movie Review – It Chapter Two

Pennywise is back – and he ain’t clownin’ around. It Chapter Two is bigger, scarier and funnier than the first.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Clocking in at a staggering 1138 pages, Stephen King’s gargantuan 1986 novel It was always going to be tough for any filmmaker to successfully adapt. Not to mention it’s chock full of weird shit – from teen orgies to magical god turtles (seriously, look it up).

However, Argentine director Andy Muschietti has done exactly that, with It Chapter Two bringing this horror duology to a stirring, spooky and seriously strange end. Much like King’s novel, this second film is long, unwieldy and sometimes a slog – but what it lacks in structure it more than makes up for in thrills and spills.

It Chapter Two picks up 27 years after the events of the first film. The Losers Club have gone their separate ways, with all but one (Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike) leaving Derry and any memory of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) behind in the process. But when children start to disappear from Derry’s streets once again, Mike holds each member of the club to their vow of returning home to put an end to the evil clown once and for all.

James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader star as older versions of Bill, Beverley and Richie respectively. The whole cast wonderfully captures the unique ticks and quirks of their younger selves, but none more so than James Ransone’s hopeless hypochondriac Eddie.

The film’s overarching theme is one of repressed trauma and facing long-forgotten fears – struggling screenwriter Bill can’t find closure; Beverley has bounced from an abusive father to an abusive husband; and Richie is using stand-up comedy to hide a secret. The film takes its time to set the table and flesh out its ensemble, before splitting them up so they can each revisit and do battle with their nightmarish past. The character-driven narrative depends on its actors to lean in and bear the emotional burden, which they absolutely do – particularly Chastain and Hader.

Of course, It Chapter Two wouldn’t work without someone preying on these personal demons, and Skarsgard’s portrayal of Pennywise is once again phenomenal. A seamless blend of performance and visual effects, Skarsgard gleefully goes all in on Pennywise’s head-spinning insanity.

In the first film, Pennywise preyed on childhood fears; now, he has years of repressed trauma and disenchantment to exploit. The result is something angrier, more primal and upsetting than before.

It Chapter Two is terrifyingly entertaining as well as just plain terrifying. Given the choice to ‘go hard or go home’, Muschietti has definitely opted for the former. At nearly three hours, this isn’t some 90-minute penny dreadful – it’s a sprawling cosmic journey that strikes a great balance between spookiness and King’s trademark strangeness. On occasion it struggles to stay afloat under the weight of its own ambition, but by and large this is a triumphant finale that sticks the landing.

It Chapter Two is available in Australian cinemas from 5 September 2019

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Midsommar

Whatever you do, never drink the Kool-Aid. Here’s our review of Ari Aster’s shockingly gruesome sophomore feature, Midsommar.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

 A troubled twenty-something recovering from a devastating tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) chooses to tag along on a trip her apathetic boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is taking to Sweden with three of his mates – Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren).

The trip sees the quintet visit Pelle’s humble hometown, which is essentially a rural community populated by dozens of peculiar Scandinavian hippies. Decked out in white robes, floral crowns and perfectly trimmed facial hair, the commune sits in what appears to be an idyllic haven. Dani and Christian’s already fractured relationship is put to the test when a series of ceremonies culminates in the scariest thing to come out of Sweden since Saturday mornings at Ikea.

Writer/director Ari Aster’s debut feature Hereditary was something of a dark horse last year. Spurred on by a powerhouse performance from Toni Collette, it was a suffocatingly dark piece of counterprogramming to your regular studio horror film. Midsommar shares a lot of the same DNA, with Aster’s passion for pagan ritual and myth even more evident here, and reoccurring themes around family, loss and depression making for an intriguing double feature.

However, the rustic aesthetic of Midsommar’s sunny Swedish glade couldn’t be further from the oppressive gloom of Hereditary. There are no dark corners where evil can lurk in Midsommar; everything is bathed in warm sunshine, illuminating every drop of blood and chunk of gore in piercing light. There is quite literally nowhere to hide, which makes the beauty and horror that lies within all the more arresting and confronting. This isn’t for the squeamish, that’s for sure.

From a technical perspective, Midsommar is a triumph; Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography gives the sunny setting an eerily welcoming glow, while frantic lutes from composer The Haxan Cloak float in and out, putting your nerves on edge. Aster amplifies the sensation of uncertainty by smearing the edges of the frame with a trippy heat haze effect. It could be the magic mushrooms, or it could be the unrelenting sunlight. After several days without sleep, who knows where, what or who we’re seeing anymore?

If you can stomach the punishing violence and the perplexing pagan rituals, Midsommar reveals itself to be a compelling and layered examination of pain, grief, doubt and fear. Personifying all four at once is Pugh, who runs the gamut of emotions – from frailty and fright to fiery anger. Reynor’s performance is more quietly impressive, while Poulter adds some levity as the loud American who speaks before he thinks. In fact, Midsommar offers plenty of laughs – although most of them will be out of discomfort or disbelief at what’s unfolding.

A more impactful and efficient film to Hereditary in almost every regard, Midsommar sees Aster continuing to hone his craft, creating some indelible imagery and spinning a yarn of stomach-churning horror in the process.

Midsommar is available in Australian cinemas from August 8 2019

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Child’s Play

Wanna play? Killer doll Chucky meets Black Mirror technophobia in this gooey Child’s Play reboot full of murder and mirth.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

First seen on the silver screen back in 1988, Chucky has developed something of a cult following over time. A string of schlocky DTV sequels (with titles like Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky) twisted the original premise into something even stranger and sillier than it was to begin with, which explains why Warner Brothers was keen on taking it back to basics in this remake.

As someone who never cared for the originals, I can’t say I’m disappointed – and based on the gleeful silliness and wall-to-wall goriness of this film, I don’t imagine diehard fans will be either.

Director Lars Klevberg’s rebooted Child’s Play reimagines voodoo-cursed Cabbage Patch doll Chucky (this time voiced by Mark Hamill) as a malfunctioning app-enabled smart toy that can sync to all your gadgets around the home and wreak havoc via Wi-Fi. It’s an interesting refresh that makes a lot of sense nowadays. After all, what do we fear more than intelligent and adaptive technology gone awry?

The film opens in a similar fashion to the 1988 original. Karen Barclay (Aubery Plaza) is a single mum looking to start afresh with her lonely but well-behaved son Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Short on cash, Karen is able to score a second-hand Buddi doll for Andy’s birthday, which the preteen initially greets with trepidation, before the must-have gadget becomes a source of companionship.

However, it isn’t long before Andy’s Buddi doll – now named Chucky – starts to malfunction. A missing cat here, a creepy bedtime song there and Andy starts to suspect that something about Chucky ain’t quite right.

While Child’s Play is somewhat lacking in terms of its characters – the relationship between Karen and Andy isn’t as compelling as it could have been – this playful rework does enough to distance itself from what came before while retaining the core DNA.

Hamill delights in voicing the devilish doll, bringing the same madcap energy and gleeful evilness to the role as he did the Joker. The design is a little unnerving at first, but the twisted expressions only underline how deeply creepy this walking, talking, killing doll really is.

Coming in at a tidy 90 minutes and with a standout supporting performance from Bryan Tyree Henry, Child’s Play should scratch that itch for fans of the slasher genre. Packed full of gore and dark, dark humour, this film is a neat reintroduction to Chucky that doesn’t do away with what made the character such a cult horror icon in the first place.

Child’s Play is available in Australian cinemas from June 20 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary is back from the dead, and it’s a welcome if flawed resurrection.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two children Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (Hugo Lavoie) are enthusiastic about their move from Boston to a new home in the country, until their neighbour Jud (John Lithgow) alerts them of a graveyard for the local’s pets within their own backyard. When the family cat is tragically killed by a passing truck, Jud reveals to Louis that the cemetery holds mysterious powers and can be used to bring animals back by burying them at a certain place deep within. But something evil has taken over the cat in its resurrection, and Louis soon learns that the cemetery can bring more than just pets back to life.

In the midst of a resurgence of Stephen King adaptations and remakes, there’s been great (It, Gerald’s Game) and not-so great (Cell, The Dark Tower). Directing team Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s (Starry Eyes, Holidays) slick revamp of Pet Sematary falls somewhere in the middle of that scale – leaning to the more positive side for sure, but still at times a victim to the inherent silliness of its premise.

The good news is that Kölsch and Widmyer keep the suspense dial turned to high throughout a good chunk of the runtime, which works largely to Sematary’s benefit. A few cheap jump scares early on are thankfully traded for long periods of breath-holding, often climaxing in effective and sparingly-used bursts of gore. The acting is great, with Jason Clarke’s loving father and John Lithgow’s weird but well-intentioned old neighbour sharing a good bond. The standout, however, is young Jeté Laurence as the Creed daughter, who successfully carries and transitions her character as she’s forced to play it darker in the film’s second half.

The dark look of the film helps keep the sinister tone intact, even if the charm the original held with its cheesy 80’s practical effects is sacrificed. The actors playing it straight helps this too for the most part, but eventually the ridiculousness of certain scenes come at odds with their seriousness and things begin to unravel. As increasingly silly events ramp up in the third act, it’s hard not to laugh at how nonsensical it all is.

Still, it’s a fun ride that delivers in creepiness and continues the case that most of Stephen King’s work should make for viable entertainment for years to come.

Pet Sematary is available in Australian cinemas from April 4 

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Movie Review – Hotel Mumbai

Hotel Mumbai pulls no punches as it shows the sheer brutality of the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Director and co-writer Anthony Maras delivers a truly heart-pounding two hours with Hotel Mumbai. His directorial debut tells the true story of the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel, following the hotel staff and guests as they try to survive. People are killed quickly and mercilessly, and just as you think the film has hit a turning point for the better, the characters are blind-sided, slipping back into despair.

Maras creates some truly humane moments that tug at the heartstrings, with characters speaking on the phone to their loved ones, telling them that they are safe just to spare them the truth. He captures the chaos outside the hotel, where emergency crews try and fail to enter the building safely, and juxtaposes this with empty, bullet-ridden hallways where dead bodies lay strewn and danger lurks around every corner.

While Hotel Mumbai boasts a large and talented cast (including Armie Hammer, Jason Isaacs and Australian actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey) its Dev Patel and Anupam Kher who completely steal the show as two staff members who decide to stay behind and protect the guests, rather than trying to escape and save themselves. Unlikely bonds are formed between the hotel staff and guests as they work together to survive and even the terrorists are given depth to help explain the motives behind their actions.

Overall, Hotel Mumbai is a master class in tension that puts you on the edge of your seat and doesn’t let you get comfortable for long.

Hotel Mumbai is available in Australian cinemas from March 14 

Images courtesy of Icon Film Distribution